Sixers hoping Nocioni adds toughness to lineup

Sixers' Andres Nocioni, who is nursing a sprained left ankle, watches practice.
Sixers' Andres Nocioni, who is nursing a sprained left ankle, watches practice.
Posted: October 01, 2010

Andres Nocioni has been here less than 2 weeks, but he is Philadelphia. He is everything even the most casual fans want for their teams. He is tough, rough, sometimes gruff, but with a burning desire to win and the skill, will and tactical experience to help accomplish that.

"This team may have been the best team for him to come to, with how Philly fans are and the mentality here for Philly sports fans," TV analyst Reggie Miller said the other day after visiting the 76ers' training camp at Saint Joseph's University. "He's a hard-hat kind of guy. He does all the little things on your team to help you win. He's one of those guys, like Dennis Rodman and Bill Laimbeer; you couldn't stand to play against them, but you wanted to play with them."

Sort of like Miller.

Philly fans, by nature, are also impatient. They want what they want and they want it yesterday, if not sooner. But they will have to wait patiently for Nocioni, the 6-7 forward/guard, as he fully recovers from a sprained left ankle suffered in August while training with Argentina's national team for the World Championships in Turkey. He was determined to try to play through the injury, but that was out once the Sixers' medical staff saw the MRI reports.

"Philadelphia, they did the right thing," Nocioni said. "They believed I couldn't play. I tried to push myself really hard, but . . . "

At 30, he knew this probably was his last chance to play for his country at what he called "a high level."

"The next one [in 2014], I can [possibly] go, but I don't know if I can be at a high level like I was this year," he said.

Even now, Sixers coach Doug Collins has Nocioni mostly watching the practice sessions.

"I hope he becomes a 20-minute a night [player] for us," Collins said. "He's such a competitor; I don't want him to get to a point where you're telling him to shut it down. I told him we're building.

"He's in much better shape than I thought he'd be, because he really hasn't been able to do much. He's going to give us toughness, and he can space the floor, because he can shoot threes and play multiple positions. I hope he's real physical, something Darius Songaila is, too. I hope he brings us a real edge.

"I told him I want him to be ready by the last three to four exhibition games, where he can really go full-bore. I don't want him to roll that ankle again and be set back."

In his homeland, Nocioni is known as "Chapu," after El Chapulin Colorado, a parody of a Mexican TV superhero, loosely translated as "The Red Grasshopper."

"I'm here for help," Nocioni said, laughing. "My superheroes are going to be Andre Iguodala and Elton Brand. We're going to play hard for them, try to help them."

Nocioni arrived from Sacramento with Spencer Hawes in the June trade for Samuel Dalembert.

"Last year was really tough for me in Sacramento," he said. "We couldn't win, and I don't like to lose. All my life, I've tried to win games - in Europe, in Argentina, for the national team."

In that respect, he was told, he should be happy he wasn't here last season.

Asked about playing against Nocioni over the years, Iguodala smiled knowingly.

"He can distract you, if you let him," Iguodala said. "Playing against him was like playing international ball. The thing they say about American players is, they can't outplay us athletically, but they can bring us down to their level and make it an even playing field with some of the tactics they use.

"But they're good players, and he's a solid player. He's the kind of guy you love to hate; on your team, you love him, because he's going to help you win. The first couple times I played against him, I couldn't wait to see him again. But that's what he wants. After you've been in the league for a while, you kind of understand. You can't get hung up on one guy, not if he's going to affect you that way."

Sixers teammate Thaddeus Young shares the sentiment.

"My first year, it was, like, 'Who is this guy?' because he was so aggressive," Young said. "And that's what we need as a team. We need guys that are going to be aggressive and physical, who are going to go out there and play hard-nosed basketball. That's what we have to get back to [doing]."

Nocioni appreciated their perspective.

"We play different basketball [overseas]," he said. "More contact, probably. In Europe, the refs let you play a little bit more with your body. Sometimes we try to do that here, but it's a little bit difficult, because the rules are different."

But he's here, and as his ankle heals, he will offer his own special brand of the game. To describe it properly, Iguodala channeled offensively challenged rough-and-tumble former teammate Reggie Evans.

"He's Reggie," Iguodala said, pausing for effect. "With skill." *

For more Sixers coverage, read the

Daily News' Sixers blog, Sixerville, at

http://go.philly.com/sixerville.

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